Intercollegiate rugby is the next big thing
Intercollegiate rugby is not just a game played by bearded warriors with impossibly high pain thresholds. It’s now arguably America’s fastest growing sport for both men and women.
Participation has been in the rise for years and there are currently 1.2 million Americans playing, including 32,000 participants at 900 college programs, according to USA Today. Major television networks, like NBC, have started to broadcast live matches, and rugby will be featured in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.
Rugby is approaching its tipping point in the States, so let’s get out there on the pitch and learn about footy.
Rugby vs. Football
Like football, the object of rugby is to get a ball passed an opponent’s touch line or kick it between goal posts. Unlike football, rugby has 15 players per team on the pitch (not field) at any given time. There are no time stoppages outside of halftime.
Despite these differences, the games are similar in spirit with lots of contact and tough competitors. At the highest level, rugby stars resemble and even sometimes exceed NFL players in stature in speed. For example, rugby legend Jonah Lomu, who was pursued by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the 1990s, stood 6-feet, 5-inches tall, weighed 262 pounds and had sprinter speed. Check out his highlights:
The history of college rugby
Intercollegiate rugby set the stage for modern American football back in the 19th century. Schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton competed against each other for years in rugby before Yale coach Walter Camp modified the rules, most importantly instituting four downs to gain 10 yards, to create an entirely new sport of football.
Camp’s modified game flourished during the 20th century while rugby became less popular.
In the 1960s, rugby had a bit of resurgence on college campuses and eventually the United States of America Rugby Football Union (what is now USA Rugby) was formed in 1976. By 1980, there were more than 1,000 rugby clubs nationwide. Over the last few years, these clubs have matured into varsity sports and some schools have begun to offer rugby scholarships for both men and women.
Intercollegiate rugby taps into international mass appeal
Other than a willingness to hit and be hit, rugby does not discriminate, as roughly one-quarter of club participants are female. In addition to being inclusive, rugby is non-stop action; there are no lulls in play or timeouts.
But, most importantly, rugby is about coming together and bonding with your teammates in the face of adversity. This camaraderie is seemingly the viral component of its appeal. Rugby coach Jay Day told USA Today:
“It’s a team sport. Everyone works together both on and off the field. Rugby isn’t always about winning either. It’s a chance to build fun and uplifting memories and to help develop lifelong skills of hard work, dedication and respect.”
The fraternal order of rugby players is on full display during a tradition called the “talk story,” where players and coaches from both teams come together to socialize after matches.